United States officials optimistic about nuclear deal with Iran this week

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 6:38am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 6:39am

Major powers and Iran are getting closer to an initial agreement to curb Iran's nuclear programme, a senior US official said, adding it is "quite possible" a deal could be reached when negotiators meet this week in Geneva.

"For the first time in nearly a decade we are getting close to a first step ... that would stop the Iranian nuclear programme from advancing and roll it back in key areas," the official said.

"I don't know if we will reach an agreement. I think it is quite possible that we can, but there are still tough issues to negotiate," said the official.

The official said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would meet on Wednesday in Geneva. They would be joined later the same day by representatives of a wider group known as the P5+1 - comprising Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Three days of talks are likely.

The talks will seek to finalise an interim deal to allow time to negotiate a permanent agreement with Iran that would provide assurances to the six powers that its atomic programme would not produce bombs.

Negotiations last week in Geneva ended without an agreement, although the sides appeared to be close to a deal.

US President Barack Obama has urged sceptical US lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Iran while negotiations are continuing. In addition to lobbying lawmakers, the White House also reached out to progressive groups supportive of diplomacy with Iran to make sure they stay aligned with the administration's approach, according to a source close to the matter.

Senior administration officials told supporters that they are guardedly optimistic about reaching an interim deal with Iran in Geneva and that the P5+1, including the French, were ready to present a unified position there, the source said.

The senior US official said that published estimates of direct sanctions relief being offered under a preliminary deal - which have ranged from US$15 billion to US$50 billion - were "wildly exaggerated".